AFC Playoff Projections, Week 7: First One onto the Colts Bandwagon!
When Peyton Manning and the Broncos stormed back with 35 unanswered points in the second half of their 35-24 Monday night win against the Chargers this week, they accomplished a few things:
Keep an eye on Indy.
1. They tied an NFL record for the largest comeback win by a road team in NFL history.
2. They evened their record at 3-3 and, via the head-to-head tiebreaker, took over first place in the AFC West.
3. They hatched ready-made sports talk radio topics in Houston this week by a) ensuring the Texans and the Ravens would be the only AFC teams over .500 going into their gargantuan matchup this Sunday, and b) ensuring that about half the AFC would be sitting at 3-3 or 2-3.
Make no mistake, selfishly, I am happiest about the third bullet point above. On the radio, content is king.
Speaking to both of the threads in that third bullet point, I'll have a Texans-Ravens preview later this week (likely wrapped in a new BINGO card for Battle-Drink, the Texans-themed drinking game sweeping sports bars all across the 713, 281, 832, and parts of the 409 area codes), but the part I wanted to hit this morning is that 3-3 (and 2-3) battle royale into which the AFC has morphed.
I mean, talk about parity. Look at the AFC! Hell, look at the whole NFL. Somewhere the ghost of Pete Rozelle (the late NFL commissioner and the patron saint of "parity") is grabbing those NFL standings and taking them into the bathroom to spend some "quality time" with them. Consider the following:
1. Sixteen teams -- HALF of the entire league! -- are either 3-3 or 2-3, including the entire AFC East.
2. Six weeks in, we only have one undefeated team left (Atlanta) and they've needed a miracle comeback to beat the 1-4 Carolina Panthers and a pick-six late in the game to knock off the 1-4 Raiders. I don't want to say the Falcons are a shaky undefeated, but Mercury Morris is frantically scrawling rap lyrics about the Falcons losing to the Eagles in two weeks.
3. Every team in the league has at least one win, which means we don't get to relive the Detroit Lions 0-16 death march from a few years ago, or even flirt with it. Very unsatisfying, to be honest.
So the hot topic of the week on our show (and probably every other show in AFC cities in the free world) has been "Who will the playoff teams be in the AFC?" So if college football pundits can give us recurring bowl projections each week for 35 games (only one of which really, truly matters), then I can certainly give you a semi-recurring look at the playoff picture in the NFL, at the very least in the AFC (you know, with us being an AFC city and what not).
So six weeks in, as we head toward Week 7 of the 2012 season, here is where I see this thing ending up (Now is when I self-deprecatingly tell you to bookmark this page so you can laugh at me come December 30.):
FIRST ROUND BYES
1. Houston Texans (AFC South Champions) 12-4
My preseason prediction for the Texans was 11-5, and if I were to get a chance to readjust it, I'd probably move it to 12-4 at this point. There's at least one loss, likely two, in the three nationally televised road games (at Chicago, at Detroit, at New England), and they've never made it unscathed through the division. Clearly, the most pivotal games are this weekend against the Ravens and December 10 against the Patriots. Win those and you've got head-to-head advantages over all the AFC teams in the mix for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. Denver Broncos (AFC West Champions) 11-5
On the surface, this appears to be a bit of a bold call. I mean, the Broncos are two games behind the Ravens and Texans and were 30 minutes away from a 2-4 start Monday night.
But look at their schedule the rest of the way. The Broncos have seven of their remaining ten games against teams in the bottom ten of the AP Pro 32 poll. ("The what?" you might be saying. The AP Pro 32 is a compilation of the power rankings of twelve purported experts. It's not the gospel, clearly, but not a bad tool to use to apply some educated opinions as a basis for this exercise. It will get referred to a few more times here, so get used to it.)
The Broncos have the Panthers, Raiders, Browns, Bucs, and TWO with the Chiefs on the schedule! The only thing missing is an FCS school looking for a payday. The "circle the date" game is Week 15's trip to Baltimore, which could be for a first round bye.